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AV Laundry Day, Over 100 Years Ago

On laundry day, the first settlers in Anderson Valley would fetch buckets of water from the spring or the hand-dug well in the back yard. By the early 1900s, some people had a windmill and a water tower.

The water was usually heated in an oval shaped copper wash boiler on a wood burning stove. The wash boiler was oval shaped, so you could remove two round stove lids and put the boiler directly over the fire. This would speed up the water heating operation, so, on a hot summer day, you wouldn't heat up the house more than necessary. The hot water was then poured into a washtub, soap was added, and the clothes were scrubbed on a washboard. Once the clothes were clean, they were often run through a hand cranked wringer to remove the soapy water. They were then rinsed in hot, [soap-free] water with a wash-plunger and run through the wringer again. Now, they were ready to be hung on the clothes line.

The 1902 Sears Roebuck catalog lists several hand operated washing machines for around four dollars each. Some had a lever which you pulled back and forth and some had a hand crank. They allowed the user to use hotter water than could be used when washing by hand with a washboard.

Once the clothes were dry, they needed to be ironed. There were no “perma-pressed” clothes back then, so, almost all the clothing needed ironing. The heavy clothes irons were heated on the wood burning stove. Women did most of the washing and ironing, back in the day, and they were often expected to wear a high collar, long sleeved, floor length dress and, often times, a corset. If the weather was hot, they would probably be reluctant to fire up the wood burning stove and over heat the house. Some folks were lucky enough to have a second wood stove on the back porch, or a gasoline fueled clothes iron. [Electric irons were not used in Anderson Valley until the late 1930's or 1940's, when power lines were brought in.]

The Anderson Valley Museum has a laundry display which includes hand operated washing machines and gasoline fueled irons. It has several manikins showing how women dressed, back in the day. The Museum is open on weekends from 1 pm to 4 pm. 


  1. Brian Wood May 2, 2022

    I enjoy your articles about local history, Bill.

  2. Cat Spydell May 3, 2022

    I have been handwashing my laundry at my off-grid home in Philo for 3 years now. Though I’m getting a washing machine soon, I’ll think of these strong Anderson Valley women next time I do a handwashing load!

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